Simple food, local ingredients
By James Card
Ed Klinger opened a restaurant during the Covid pandemic and it actually worked out for him.
Klinger owns the Moose Inn supper club in Wautoma and through that he started a catering business. When a Wautoma venue opened up four years ago, he opened Klinger’s Real BBQ.
“We opened that right during Covid,” said Klinger with a big laugh. “In hindsight, with our concept of food and how we serve people and our outdoor atmosphere over there was a perfect storm during Covid. People weren’t eating inside. I think barbecue people are a little more resilient. It’s not like my supper club that really suffered. This was a little more casual atmosphere so they liked going to a counter and your food is put together and then went to sit outside,” said Klinger.
The Wautoma location has seating for 150 people with a covered patio.
“The timing worked out. We just got lucky. That concept took off and people loved the product,” said Klinger.
He doubled down and opened a Waupaca location on N2826 County Trunk QQ this spring. His son Spencer is the co-owner.
Right along the road is their smoker in the form of 1966 cabover Freightliner. It was made by a childhood friend of Klinger, John Wenniger of Wenninger Auto in Wautoma.
The truck looks like it is a tanker but the tanker is the offset smoker. The firebox is in back and it is mostly loaded with oak. Some hickory is used for seasoning the briskets. The meat is loaded onto racks on the side of the tanker and the smoke passes up and over the meat and out two smokestack pipes near the cab of the truck.
While driving down County QQ, it looks like exhaust is coming from the truck. People stop to take pictures.
Near the smoker truck is a trailer loaded with oak firewood. Between both barbecue restaurants they will use 44 cords of wood per year. It takes 15 hours to smoke brisket. Pork butts are cooked overnight and ribs are cooked throughout the day as they take three to four hours.
As for the name, Klinger’s Real BBQ, the “real” part comes from using wood and keeping the ingredients simple.
Klinger became interested in barbecue and smoking meat through his grandfather. He was a hunter and angler and Klinger remembers him smoking salmon on Weber grill.
“I’ve always liked cooking with fire. At my supper club I always love running the grill. Smoking meat has always been a passion of mine. I’m an old kettle guy and I love the indirect heat concept. I still do it with wood and charcoal at home,” said Klinger.
“I’ve always said food has gotten complicated over the years. People don’t just want a hamburger anymore. They want a burger with 30 different ingredients on it. I like taking things back to the basics like our brisket. It’s a salt and pepper rub. For our ribs there are about seven different ingredients that go into the rub. It’s something that we make in-house. It’s simple and anyone can do it and I’ll give you the recipe if you want it,” said Klinger.
He sources potatoes from a friend in Waushara County. For potato salad, they boil them, add salt and pepper and add eggs, celery and Hellman’s mayonnaise.
“I’m big on less ingredients but really quality ingredients. Everything here fresh is the key,” said Klinger.
They use 1,000 pounds of baby red potatoes each week.
Their main meat supplier is Stoneridge in Wautoma. Flyte Family Farms is the produce supplier. Star Dairy in Weyauwega provides the cheese curds.
They feature beer from Knuth Brewing, produced by fellow who was born and raised in Wautoma and runs a brewery in Ripon. They have Central Waters, New Glarus, Leinenkugel’s and other Wisconsin-based beers except for Shiner Bock, a Texan beer that goes well with barbecue.
On the menu is brisket, pulled pork, ribs, chicken and smoked sausage and the sides are classic barbecue fare including collard greens and cheddar jalapeno grits – something not easily found on Wisconsin menus. Klinger suggests trying a Texas Twinkie: a jalapeño pepper wrapped with bacon and stuffed with brisket, sautéed garlic and onions cream cheese and cheddar and then cooked in the smoker.
They are open from 10 a.m. to close Wednesday through Sunday.